Sophie's face faded into the gray winter light of the sitting room. She dozed in the armchair that Joe had bought for her on their fortieth anniversary. The room was warm and quiet. Outside it was snowing lightly.
At a quarter past one the mailman turned the corner onto Allen Street. He was behind on his route, not because of the snow, but because it was Valentine's Day and there was more mail than usual. He passed Sophie's house without looking up. Twenty minutes later he climbed back into his truck and drove off.
Sophie stirred when she heard the mail truck pull away, then took off her glasses and wipe her mouth and eyes with the handkerchief she always carried in her sleeve. She pushed herself up using the arm of the chair for support, straightened slowly and smoothed the lap of her dark green housedress.
Her slippers made a soft, shuffling sound on the bare floor as she walked to the kitchen. She stopped at the sink to wash the two dishes she had left on the counter after lunch. Then she filled a plastic cup halfway with water and took her pills. It was one forty-five. There was a rocker in the sitting room by the front window. Sophie eased herself into it. In a half-hour the children would be passing by on their way home from school. Sophie waited, rocking and watching the snow.
The boys came first, as always, running and calling out things Sophie could not hear. Today they were making snowball as they went, throwing them at one another. One snowball missed and smacked hard into Sophie's window. She jerked backward, and the rocker slipped off the edge of her oval rag rug.
The girl dilly-dallied after the boys, in twos and threes, cupping their mittened hands over their mouths and giggling. Sophie wonder if they were telling each other about the valentines they had received at school. One pretty girl with long brown hair stopped and pointed to her face behind the drapes, suddenly self-consious. When she looked out again, the boys and girls were gone. It was cold by the window, but she stayed there watching the snow conver the children's footprints.
A florist's truck turned onto Allen Street. Sophie followed it with her eyes. It was moving slowly. Twice it stopped and started again. Then the driver pulled up in front of Mrs. Mason's house next door and parked.Who would be sending Mrs. Mason flowers? Sophie wondered. Her daughter in Wisconsin? Or her brother? No, her brother was very ill. It was probably her daughter. How nice of her.
Sophie shoved herself out of the rocker and stood close to the drapes. The man knocked. Her hands trembled as she straightened her hair. She reached her front hall on the third knock.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," the man said loudly. "Would you take a delivery for your neighbor?"
"Where would you like me to put them?" the man asked politely as he strode in.
The box was as long as the kitchen table. Sophie drew near to it and bent over to read the lettering: "NATALIE'S Flowers for Every Occasion." The rich smell of roses engulfed her. She closed her eyes and took slower breaths, imagining yellow roses. Joe had always chosen yellow.
It's was five o'clock when Mrs. Mason knocked at Sophie's front door. Sophie was still at the kitchen table. The flower box was now open though, and she held the roses on her lap, swaying slightly and stroking the delicate yellow petals. Mrs. Mason knocked again, but Sophie did not hear her, and after several minutes the neighbour left.
She was smiling as she reached the middle of the room. She turned slightly and began to dip and twirl in small slow circles. She stepped lightly, gracefully, around the sitting room, into the kitchen, down the hall, back again. She danced till her knees grew weak, and then she dropped into the armchair and slept.
"Hello, Sophie," Mrs. Mason said. "How are you? I knocked at five and was a little worried when you didn't come.
"I just hate snow, don't you? The radio says we might have six inches by midnight, but you can never trust them, you know. Do you remember last winter when they predicted four inches, and we hand twenty-one? Twenty-one! And they said we'd have a mild winter this year. Ha! I don't think it's been over zero in weeks. Do you know my oil bill was $263 last month? For my little house!"
"I don't know how much longer I can keep paying the bills. If only Alfred, God bless him, had been as careful with money as your Joseph. Joseph! Oh, good heavens! I almost forgot about the roses." Sophie's cheeks burned. She began to stammer an apology, stepping aside to reveal the empty box.
But Sophie had stopped listening. Her heart was pounding as she picked up the small white envelope she had missed earlier. It had been lying beside the flower box all this time. With trembling hands, she removed the card.